For the second time in four months, the Ninth Court of Appeals has reversed the judgment of a Beaumont judge for disregarding a jury verdict.
On July 2 justices ordered Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, to enter a final judgment consistent with a jury verdict rendered in a home remodeling lawsuit, reversing the Beaumont judge’s decision to nearly double a $36,000 award to $70,000.
The decision stems from a lawsuit brought by Jefferson County residents Shirley and James Payne, who sued Elton Sinegal and his business, Elton’s Construction, after he quit a home remodeling job and refused to return after an arbitrator’s decision required him to do so, court records show.
The original bid was for $116,000. Before Sinegal quit, the Paynes had paid him $81,366 for his work. The arbitrator found Sinegal breached his contract and awarded relief in favor of the Paynes, requiring the contractor to honor his original bid.
Sinegal had maintained unforeseen termite damage had caused him to under bid the project, court records show.
The arbitrator also required the Paynes to pay Sinegal $34,634, the balance due on his original contract, after completion. However, Sinegal refused to return and the Paynes filed suit and opted to hire other contractors to complete the job.
Court records show that before the trial, Floyd granted the Paynes’ motion for partial summary judgment, finding Sinegal breached his contract.
A trial over damages then transpired in October 2013. The jury unanimously agreed $36,000 was needed to complete the agreed construction of the Paynes’ home.
Court records show Shirley Payne testified that $36,734 was the amount to finish the job.
On Nov. 4, 2013, a hearing was held for a motion for judgment not withstanding the verdict. Two days later, Floyd disregarded the jury’s findings and entered a judgment of $70,000 to be paid to the Paynes.
Sinegal appealed, arguing Floyd erred by disregarding the jury’s award of damages and that a trial court is authorized to grant a motion to disregard a jury’s verdict only if a directed verdict on the issue would have been proper.
In a jury trial, a directed verdict is an order from the presiding judge to the jury to return a particular verdict. Typically, the judge orders a directed verdict after finding that no reasonable jury could reach a decision to the contrary.
“Unless the evidence before the jury conclusively established the fact that the Paynes were damaged and the amount of their damages, the trial court could not grant a directed verdict on the issue of damages,” the Ninth Court’s opinion states.
“Because the evidence on damages that was before the jury allowed it to rationally return a verdict awarding the Paynes $36,000 in damages, we hold the trial court erred in disregarding the jury’s verdict.”
This is not the first time the Ninth Court has found Floyd erred in disregarding a jury verdict.
On April 23 justices found Floyd erred in granting a new trial against DuPont, who had won a no-negligence verdict in a 2008 trial of an asbestos lawsuit.
On both cases, Floyd refused to speak directly with the Record, telling his clerk to tell the Record he does not comment on ongoing cases.
The Record also sought to inquire from the judge on his thoughts about the Ninth Court reversing him twice in a four-month span, and whether or not the Paynes share a relation to attorney James E. Payne of the Provost Umphrey Law Firm in Beaumont.
Justice Hollis Horton authored the Ninth Court’s July 2 opinion.
Sinegal is represented by Nancy Hart, attorney for the Beaumont law firm Wells, Peyton, Greenberg & Hunt.
Port Arthur attorney Carl Parker represents the Paynes.
The Record also attempted to contact Parker for comment.
Trial case No. E191-964
Appeals case No. December 31, 2009508CV